During severe lockdown in 2020, a group of us formed a Pacific Reading Group comprising Yuki Kihara (interdisciplinary artist who is representing Aotearoa New Zealand at 59th Venice Biennale 2022), Natalie King (curator of Yuki Kihara: Paradise Camp), Ioana Gordon-Smith (Wellington-based assistant curator for the Venice Biennale) and Allan Haeweng (Kanak curator in New Caledonia). We met weekly over zoom from Samoa, Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, conversing across time zones and waterways as a way to read collectively in spite of the challenges of deferrals and delays in delivering the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
Reading, listening and exchanging through dialogue became a working methodology and underpinned the curatorial process. The Creative Team formed an alliance as time became attenuated and travel restrictions increased. We found other ways to conjoin through a bibliography of texts as well as guest presenters, invited by Kihara to tell our stories of triumph, advocacy, action and combatting discrimination and colonial systems of oppression. We slowed down during this time of crisis, relishing time to read together, share resources and build new solidarities. Despite confinement, we were not alone. Zoom screens replaced in-person talanoa as we tried to find ways for human connectivity.
Collectively, we delved into Epeli Hau’Ofa’s essay Our Sea of Islands and Albert Wendt’s Towards a New Oceania, traversing ideas of wayfaring, small island ecologies, Oceanic thinking, intersectionality and the flamboyance of camp. Reading together became a methodology for the creative team to work collectively and examine some of the urgent issues in Yuki Kihara’s exhibition Paradise Camp. As the first Pasifika, fa’afafine (transgender) and Indigenous artist to represent Aotearoa New Zealand, we framed our work with laughter and listening; we marveled, contested, dialogued and thought about how text can inform curatorial and creative research, leading us towards Paradise Camp at the Venice Biennale.
Guest presenters include
9 January 2020
Alex Su’a is a lawyer by profession, mostly based and practising in Apia, Samoa for 17 years now. Su’a is a very proud fa’afafine and President of the Samoa Fa’afafine Association. Su’a is also the President of the Samoa Law Society. It has always been Su’a’s passion to address issues from a cultural/human rights perspective that sees the eradication of all forms of violence and discrimination against our indigenous LGBTQI community
of fa’afafine and fa’atama in Samoa. At the same time, Su’a is always critical of ensuring that they seek out and advocate for opportunities that see to their empowerment and enhancement for equal and better opportunities and treatment in society.
4 August 2020
Phylesha Brown-Acton, Niuean fakafifine LGBTQ+ rights activist. In 2010, at the Asia Pacific Games Human Rights Conference, Brown-Acton was the first person to introduce a Pacific specific acronym for western LGBTQ+ communities: MVPFAFF - Mahu, Vakasalewalewa, Palopa, Fa’afafine, Akava’ine, Fakafifine and Fakaleiti/leiti. Brown-Acton is Executive Director of F’ine Pasifika, an LGBTQI+ rights organisation based in New Zealand, which she founded in 2015.
12 August 2020
Ymania Brown: Brisbane-based, Samoan by birth, Brown is a proud fa’afafine trans woman from the Pacific who has driven Pacific trans activism. She is the Project Lead for the Sydney World Pride (SWP) Project working with EA’s Community Partners and various stakeholders to deliver SWP’s mandate for hosting the largest Human Rights Conference in 2023 in the Asia Pacific region.
14 August 2020
Kirsty MacDonald is an independent filmmaker based in Auckland, New Zealand. MacDonald has directed several short, award-winning digital documentaries including: Black and White (2006), exploring the potent collaboration between intersex activist Mani Bruce Mitchell and photographer Rebecca Swan; Good For a Girl (2005), a portrait of the New Zealand Women’s Boxing Champion; I Can Read You Like a Book (2003), an examination of the way in which one woman “performs” her gender identity; and Assume Nothing (2009).
26 August 2020
Vaitoa Toelupe is an Executive Member of the Samoa Fa’afafine Association and she delivered a keynote presentation at the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames 2011.
2 September 2020
Patrick Thomsen is of Samoan descent and a Senior Lecturer in Global Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Seuta’afili Dr Patrick Thomsen is a social commentator, researcher, freelance writer concerned with SOGI Rights across the Pacific and New Zealand. Currently, he is the Principal Investigator for the Manalagi Project, New Zealand’s first Pasifika Rainbow Health and Wellbeing Project.
9 September 2020
Dan Taulapapa McMullin is a fa’afafine artist and poet from Eastern Samoa and their studio is currently in Hudson, New York where they are based. Their film Sinalela won the 2002 Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival Best Short Film Award and their book of poems, Coconut Milk, was on the American Library Association Rainbow List top ten books of the year.
16 September 2020
Valery Wichman is a Barrister and Solicitor working for the Cook Islands Government and is currently the Director of the Central Policy and Planning Office at the Office of the Prime Minister. She is a leading and long-time campaigner for Human Rights in the Cook Islands, receiving a Queens Young Leaders (QYL) Award in 2016. Wichman is also the President of Te Tiare Association, one of the two rainbow associations in the country.
23 September 2020
Tatiana Young is, in her own words, ‘moving beyond mere survivorship to smile in the face of continuing adversity.’ Realising that life is to be cherished, Tatiana first came out
as bisexual, then as a gay and by 16, as pansexual and gender- queer. Despite her new-found freedom, Tatiana continued to face hardships both in school and at home, which eventually forced her onto the streets in 2003. As a last resort, she turne to prostitution, experiencing the particular vulnerabilities of life on the streets. Eventually, she made her way back to school, graduating from the University of Texas, Austin in 2009 with special honors in anthropology. Amidst writing an 88-page senior thesis, she served as both vice chair for the Transgender Education Network of Texas (formerly TACT) and campus advocacy director for the Queer Students Alliance. That same year, she co-founded TransAction, a grassroots movement aimed at making Austin’s homeless shelters more accessible for transgender homeless populations, earning an exemplary commitment award from the Clinton Global Initiative. Young is a graduate of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas-Austin.
7 October 2020
Ahi Wi-Hongi is irawhiti takatāpui, non-binary, and transgender. Wi-Hongi is a diversity and inclusion specialist, a human rights advocate, and a health promoter. Their passions include community led action, human rights-based models, population health, and kaupapa Māori frameworks for well- being. Wi-Hongi is the national co-ordinator of Gender Minorities Aotearoa, an organisation providing transgender people with information, advocacy and health services.
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